Are Earnings What Matter Most in AT&T's Q1 Report?

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Telecom giant AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) reports first-quarter earnings after Wednesday’s closing bell. Analysts expect a solid increase in earnings per share (EPS) accompanied by a slight decline in revenues. But we all know what the big story is with AT&T.

The company is still battling with the U.S. Department of Justice over AT&T’s proposed $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner. The Justice Department is challenging the deal on antitrust grounds, the trial is nearing its end and investors are going to want to hear what AT&T has to say about how it will react to some possible outcomes of the trial.

The other major metric to keep an eye on is net subscriber additions. In the fourth quarter of 2017, AT&T added 329,000 postpaid (contract) wireless subscribers. Was that a result of substantial promotional offers or do customers really love AT&T? According to analysts surveyed by The Wall Street Journal, the company should report that it lost 68,000 postpaid subscribers in the first quarter. Any more would be a negative and any less would be a positive.

Last week the company postponed the $609 million initial public offering of its DirecTV Latin American business into a new company to be called Vrio. AT&T had first tried to sell the business but had no takers, and apparently there were no takers for the IPO, even though it was offered below valuation, according to Renaissance Capital.

Analysts are looking for EPS of $0.87 on revenues of $39.31 billion, compared to 2017 first-quarter EPS of $0.74 and $39.37 billion in revenues. The EPS estimate going into the report is 14% higher than it was three months ago, and our guess is that is due almost entirely to the huge increase in wireless subscribers.

The stock traded down about 0.4% in the noon hour Wednesday, at $34.87 in a 52-week range of $32.55 to $40.56. The consensus price target on the stock is $40.11, and AT&T pays a dividend yield of 5.69% at the current price. That yield forgives a lot of sins as long as the company can afford to pay it. Shares are down 9.8% for the year to date.

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